Veteran comic Bob Newhart has been selected as a subject for PBS's American Masters, a series of "film portraits" that celebrate the lives and works of the country's most creative and significant artists. Previous episodes have featured the likes of Lucille Ball, Aretha Franklin, Arthur Miller, Rod Serling, and more than 100 other influential "masters."
Newhart, a former accountant, began his comedy career in 1960, when Warner Bros. Records released his debut comedy album, "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart." The record shot to number one on the charts and won three Grammys, inspiring Newhart to move to Hollywood to star in an NBC variety show. The show, though it won an Emmy, was canceled after one year due to poor ratings.
After seasoning his talent for a few years in guest roles and nightclub appearances, Newhart returned to TV with the CBS sitcom The Bob Newhart Show. Six seasons later, both the comedian and his series were huge hits.
Newhart stayed on the sitcom circuit until his final show, Bob, was canceled in 1993. Since then, he's been doing solo comedy performances and making appearances in films and on television. His most recent (and high-profile) guest role was on ABC's smash hit Desperate Housewives, where he played Leslie Ann Warren's ex-boyfriend in two episodes. He'll reprise the role next season but is unsure as to the number of episodes he'll be in.
Though Newhart has been incredibly popular and influential since he first appeared on the comedy scene, he is rather modest about his success. "I don't think of myself as an American master," he says. "I've just been making a living. I just thought that (my career) would end in five years."
Newhart's installment of American Masters (titled Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned) will premiere on Wednesday, July 20. Check your local listings for a complete schedule.